Relating, Creating, Transforming

John 13:33-35

Someone who loves a neighbor allows them to be as they are, as they were, and as they will be.  -Michel Quoist

You can be a follower of Muhammad or Jesus or Buddha or whomever. Always, they said that the most essential factor is to love your neighbor and to love you.  -Leo Buscaglia

Image result for won't you be my neighborAs a kid, I remember Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood probably more than any show. To this day, when I see old clips of him singing “There are many ways to say I love you…” it brings me back to my childhood and makes me teary eyed and happy and peaceful.

Perhaps it’s because Mr. Rogers helped me through some difficult times like when I was sad or bullied or scared. Of course, I didn’t know it at the time, but Mr. Rogers’ show was groundbreaking and controversial in its day. The show addressed issues like racism and death. One of the main characters, Officer Clemmons, is a gay Black man with a beautiful tenor voice.

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Why would that be groundbreaking and controversial? Because, sadly, at that time, you didn’t see main characters who were black or gay, unless they were stereotypes. And you certainly didn’t see a white dude dipping his feet into a wading pool and singing songs with a black police officer. Mr. Rogers was intentional about asking us each time “Won’t you be my neighbor?” but being a neighbor also meant befriending and loving those who were different than you. Fred Rogers always encouraged us to love ourselves as we were and to love others as they were.

Loving someone—being kind to them, according to Mr. Rogers, was the most important thing we could do to show that we were alive.

I’m with all the critics and pundits who are saying that the recent documentary about Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, entitled: “Won’t You Be My Neighbor? A Little Kindness Makes a World of Difference” is a much-needed movie for people to watch, and it comes to us during a time when kindness and love seem in short supply.

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Here’s why:

I also remember as a kid some of my classmates made fun of me or anyone else who watched Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. They said it was a show for babies. According to the bullies, such a show was weak and childish. Now that may seem like playground banter to you, but stay with me. What has changed? Look around.

The bullies are saying and doing the same thing. It’s weak to be kind to people who are on the margins and vulnerable. Instead, we’re told that they take our jobs or money or health care away from us; they worsen our schools and neighborhoods. Likewise, if people look different or come from another country or culture [particularly poor ones], we shouldn’t welcome them, we should keep them out. They are to be feared and not trusted.

They are not our neighbors.

Neither are those who love a different gender [or more than one]. Neither are those who don’t identify with a binary gender or who have transitioned or who are transitioning, or who are just not sure. Neither are people who have brown or black skintones to be trusted. In fact, we should call the police on them when they make us feel uncomfortable. We should use extra force with them because they are dangerous. They are out to hurt us. And so are people who practice other religions besides Christianity—who wear special clothes are hats or coverings and pray in different languages and read from different sacred books. They don’t look or feel red, white, and blue enough, and so they are not our neighbors.

Friends, it’s even true that U.S. elected officials [including the President] are spreading these ideas and bullying those who don’t agree. If we are kind and loving to those on the margins or to those who are different than us, then we are weak. And we’re given license and permission to refuse services and basic human rights to people simply because of their gender identification or expression, their sexual expression, their skin color, their nationality, their linguistic background, or their religious practice. The bullying hasn’t stopped, and it won’t, as long as these bullies are given money and authority…

And as long as people like you and me stay silent and stop making new neighbors. See, the message of Mr. Rogers may seem trite and simplistic in a time such as this, but it’s not. It’s profound and difficult to be kind and to love people as they are. It’s courageous to love yourself with all your flaws and then to turn around and love all people as your neighbor, with all their flaws. There is no weakness in such a thing. Living kindness and love is brave and daring and risky. Jesus taught this and lived this. It was the greatest and newest command of Jesus of Nazareth, to love one another—to know and love our neighbors. And when asked who our neighbors might be, I don’t have any doubt that Jesus and Mr. Rogers would be on the same page, and that both of them would see what is happening in the White House, in Congress, in the Senate—in far too many of our schools and workplaces and courthouses and on our streets–as the opposite of kindness and love.

So it’s time, if you haven’t already started, friend. It’s time to ask: won’t you love your neighbor? Won’t you love yourself? Won’t you be loud with your love and kindness, right now, in this moment?

 

 

 

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Mark 5:24b-34

I would like to ask you a question. Simple, but it may seem the opposite.

What is faith?

Sure, perhaps you are thinking:

Really? What is faith? Now that’s a loaded question. Are you referring to some kind of religious faith, or a faith in God or Jesus or Mohammad, or Buddha, or humanity, or the Philadelphia Eagles? What is faith? Really???

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Okay, I get it. It may seem like a question full of baggage. For this moment, if we can, I’d like to talk about faith without all that. Can we? Bear with me. When I refer to “faith” I’m not really talking about “belief.” Does that help?

Belief is an acceptance that something is true or adherence to a certain precept or doctrine. I’m not talking about that. I’m referring to faith, which, for the sake of our conversation, we’ll define as trust or confidence in someone or something.

So, what has been your experience with that?

I’d like to explore not an answer but a curious story, about a woman who had “faith” that does not look like anything often called “faith” today in the media, politics, or religion. It’s a story about a woman who had suffered for 12 years. She didn’t believe in anything. She didn’t have any reason to. Doctors had failed her. Priests- had failed her. Her own body had failed her. She was out of money. No medicine could cure her. She was really out of options and believed in nothing.

And yet, she had great faith.

A reminder: Jesus of Nazareth and his followers are on the Jewish side of the Lake of Galilee. So there’s this woman—she’s not given a name, which, in a literary context means that she’s a nobody. The Gospel writers were not disparaging her, just letting the reader know that she was a nobody in her time and place. She wasn’t rich, and more than that, she wasn’t touchable. She wasn’t even supposed to be in public, you know. See, she had been suffering from hemorrhaging for 12 years. This bleeding made her unclean according to the law of the Levites and therefore no one could touch her. She had been alone for a long, long time; she was isolated from her community, living on the outskirts. Apparently, she had had spent all of her money on doctors. None of them made her better; in fact, her disease had gotten worse. And she, of all people, broken down and without any reason to have faith, followed after Jesus.

She knew, without question–that according to the purity code, everyone she touched would be rendered unclean, and so she didn’t reach out to touch Jesus directly. She only reached for his clothes.

It’s hard to imagine this kind of respect and trust after so many years of being ignored and pushed to the side. This is faith.

And Mark’s writer rewards her as a hero. Her faith [and touch] leads to healing. Her bleeding stops.

And, oh yeah–Jesus noticed. Who touched my clothes? Jesus had no clue who it was. But the woman knew who had touched his cloak. She could have run away, all healed, and no one would have known. But she didn’t. She came back to Jesus, fearful, trembling, and she fell down before him, and told Jesus everything. To her great surprise, Jesus called her daughter. And not only that, but Jesus recognized that her healing was not as a result of his own action, but of her trust. Your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.

Friends, this story is powerful, in my opinion.

What if faith is not what it is purported to be?

What if faith is instead determination, even when things are bleak, extra challenging, even desperate? What if faith is that determination to still reach out to try to make a positive change, no matter the circumstances? What if faith is about recognizing what is already inside you, what you are capable of, what wholeness feel and look like for you? What if faith is a skeptical thought coupled with determined action—thinking that your situation is difficult and uncertain, not believing in the things people say or try to convince you of, but still reaching out, still acting, still faith-ing with your hands and feet? What if faith is determined action to not let hate win?

Just Out of Reach

Gilbert Ruiz

Maybe you feel like the person in this painting.

If you’re feeling like you’re stuck or that feeling alive and whole is out of your reach, keep on reaching.

You are loved; really. You are not alone; really.

Keep on reaching. One of us will notice; someone will find you. And most importantly, keep reaching, because that shows that you’re alive and that there’s a spark inside of you, a divine consciousness, that can help you move forward and discover healing.

Keep reaching.

 

Mark 4:35-41

I got behind on my blog posts. Sorry ’bout that! But I’m back…hope you enjoy and thanks for reading!

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Do you like rainstorms? Do you appreciate the pattering sounds of raindrops impacting the roof or the ground or the windows or the top of your umbrella? Do you marvel at the dark clouds moving in, changing the landscape of sky, the rapid temperature change, and the possibility of thunder? I don’t know about you, but a good summer rainstorm can be an amazing thing.

Of course, there’s another way to look at it, right? Imagine you’re on your way somewhere urgently for work or school or whatever—and the rain clouds move in and you’re caught in it. No umbrella. No poncho. No raincoat. You’re bound to get soaked. You can’t avoid the puddles. You’re inundated. You’re stuck in the middle of a storm.

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That can be scary, or ominous, or at least annoying. Your plans have to change [and your clothes have to be changed]. Your shoes slosh around. You may have to take shelter for a bit and wait it out. It can be difficult if you’re caught in a storm.

Weather is a universal thread throughout the great literature of the world. Consider the metaphor of storms, which typically represent a great challenge or an obstacle to overcome, and often are metaphors that are both physical and psychological in nature.

Indeed, storms present themselves in the great stories and teachings as necessary for growth, essential for learning, and opportunities to discover inner strength and/or wisdom.

Such is the case in Biblical literature and the stories about Jesus of Nazareth in the NT Gospels. This particular story in Mark has as its principle setting a stormy body of water—one in which Jesus and his followers are navigating in a boat. The boat full of Jesus-followers is on its way to the other side of the lake, where non-Jewish people [called Gentiles] lived. It was Jesus who challenged his fellow Jewish followers to stop discriminating against non-Jews and to share love and compassion with those who they had always called “other.”

So there they were, on a boat bound for the “other” side.

Then, the winds picked up. So much so, that the boat was rocking. A storm was coming, and the rain threatened to fill the boat up and sink the whole enterprise. The people on the boat were freaking out.

And then there was Jesus.

He was curled up like a baby, sleeping on a pillow. Wind? Rain? Storms? No problem. Nap time.

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Seeing this, the followers were upset and blurted out to Jesus: “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” Really? Did they think that Jesus of all people didn’t care? Well, Jesus must’ve cared, because he woke up, got up, and rebuked the wind and talked to the water. Peace. Be silent. And sure enough, the wind ceased and then a great calm began.

Now it’s important to note that at the end of the story, the followers on the boat were not in awe of Jesus. They were scared—of the storm with its wind and rain, and scared of Jesus’ calmness in the storm. In fact, the Greek word/phrase to describe them was less awe and more crippling fear mixed with inaction.

That leads us to now. Not gonna lie—there are a lot of “storms” out there right now that seem to be invading our boats, stirring the water, tossing us about, creating a climate of fear all around us. Sadly, we in the United States live in a country where the government uses social media to create storms of fear. Donald Trump [yes, I rarely say his name, but in this case it’s necessary] is a distraction artist—using whatever he can to distract our attention from social issues we can actually change, so as to keep his false and faulty sense of control. Those around him stay silent when it comes to human rights issues like the treatment of immigrants at our borders and in detention camps and centers; the separation of families in the name of homeland security and so-called safety; the unprecedented, unchecked presence of ICE and the angry, fearful, ignorant, armed U.S. citizens who direct their anger and fear at black and brown people or anyone who looks like an “other.” All of this is a created storm of distraction and fear. And it’s effective if we let it keep us in our boats, huddled in fear and confusion or worse yet, if we let it keep us from venturing over to the other side of the lake at all.

It’s true, friends, that storms exist. They exist outside in the physical world and they exist in our society. But the storms also exist inside us. That which is external is what it is. You and I cannot control other people. Neither can governments or leaders, regardless of what they assume. What happens externally is often beyond our control. The storms come with wind and rain and they rock our boats. And then we’re left with a decision: how will we react inside?

Will we let those storms eat us up, engulf our minds and bodies so much that we forget our humanity and stop seeing the humanity in others? Will we take on these external storms inside ourselves and start to claim them as our own storms? This will cripple us; we will cower in fear; we won’t act. We’ll either stay in the boat out of fear or we’ll never get into the boat at all.

But there is another path, and it’s one that Jesus of Nazareth invited others to take. It is the path of peace, the path of calm within the storm. It is recognizing the storms and not ignoring them, but not allowing them to affect us negatively.

This path is seeing the storms as opportunity for growth, for aha moments, for strength, and for effective action.

Yes, it matters how we see the storms. Will you see the rain clouds, will you feel the wind and drops, will you hear the thunder, and will you see it as opportunity? Will you see it as a chance to jump into the boat and go to the other side? To embrace an “other” as a “friend” and to combat the distractions and fear mongering with focused compassion and courageous action?

Bring on the storms. We’re in the boat together. Let’s keep going to the other side.

 

Love: the Wildcard

I Corinthians 13

Love is patient, love is kind…

Image result for same sex weddingYou’ve probably heard this text before. Weddings? Yeah.
Not gonna lie—it’s a bit overused. And misused. So let’s discuss, no?

I Corinthians is Paul of Tarsus’ first letter to a faith community in Corinth. Is it relevant? That depends on how deep you’re willing to go. Context is everything. The writer of this letter, Paul, wasn’t happy at all with this church in Corinth. People were too proud. They thought they had theology and God all figured out. They put down others who didn’t believe or think or act like them. They were full of themselves and therefore had no room left for love. Paul’s focus was indeed on community—not just in this letter, but throughout his life and writings. This is the same guy who described the faith community [or church] as being like the human body. Each part, big or small, was of equal importance. And each body part needed the other in order to function and thrive. Everyone in the community, taught Paul, was equal.[1]

But being “one” had nothing to do with sameness.

The people in the various house churches of the 1st and 2nd century Mediterranean world were incredibly diverse. They were Jews and non-Jews; Greeks and Romans and Israelites and Egyptians and Assyrians and Samaritans; they were people who believed in many gods and others who believed in one; they were women and men who ate different foods, wore different clothes, spoke different languages, said different prayers, and had different ideas. So being community for these people was not about being homogeneous or comfortable.

It was a radical community, like the one Jesus of Nazareth created and lifted up. Jesus met people face to face and accepted them for who they were. He then encouraged his disciples to do the same, to bring this message of God’s kin-dom community to their neighbors near and far. It became the recognizable mark of the Jesus Way. People noticed, because it was weird to accept people who were poor, widowed, childless, unclean, or of low status. It was odd to reach across boundaries of social level and religion. Such an idea and a community would upset the order and status that religious and political leaders wanted to protect.

Paul was into this new way in spite of the odds. He himself used to be one of those oppressors, remember. He was changed by a forgiveness he had never experienced before. Paul was convinced that such a community had the power to make a difference–not just in the lives of individuals–but in the world.

Therefore, this “wedding” text is not about romantic love at all, but a radical, communal love that enables individuals to imagine life in a community where unity and difference can co-exist.[2]

But is this still relevant?

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I think so. Because I sat through a long city council meeting in Hatboro, PA recently on a  Monday night, anticipating a vote on a Human Rights Ordinance that included protections for LGBTQIA people. I spoke, as well as many others, in favor of this ordinance—how it was a no-brainer, common sense, an illustration of what the U.S is supposed to be about. Friends, the only opposition, and I mean the ONLY ONES WHO OPENLY AND VEHEMENTLY OPPOSED THIS ORDINANCE were so-called Christians. They got up and quoted Bible passages without stopping. They went on and on about how their children will be afraid if this passes, how their rights will be infringed, how this was a step in a terrible direction for the town and for the country. They even had the gall to quote scripture passages that talk about loving God and neighbor. Then they turned, in the same breath, to face all of us allies and LGBTQIA folks to say that we were dead wrong, that this ordinance was dangerous, that my friends and colleagues who identify as LGBTQIA are contrary to God’s wishes and contrary to Jesus.

They were the only ones who openly opposed this ordinance. And they used God and Jesus and even Love to justify it.

It passed, by the way. Barely. READ HERE

So I’m gonna keep it simple. I don’t care if you’re religious or not, I really don’t. If you are on the side of love, of human rights, of human dignity, of helping the marginalized whoever they may be—I love you, I’m with you, and I’ll stand with you. Period.

If you’re not—if you choose to hate, regardless of what things you quote or how much you pray or say the name Jesus—you do not know God, you do not know love. Why?

Because love is the wildcard in this messed up world.

We as human beings hurt each other all the time and do so for asinine reasons and out of fear. But love is the wildcard. Love is the unshakable, rust-proof, honest, litmus test. Love unifies those who choose to love. That is relevant in any age or context.

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[1] He reiterated this in his letter to the Galatians, when he said: There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

[2] Karoline Lewis, Ass. Professor of Preaching, Alvin N. Rogness Chair of Homiletics, Luther Seminary.

If you consider yourself a Christian and you’re reading this, welcome. I hope you continue reading.

If you are not a Christian, welcome. I really hope you keep reading too.

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The thing is, Christianity looks pretty bad right now, in many ways.

Racism, prejudice against immigrants, LGBTQIA exclusion and marginalization, belittling of women, support of [or at the very least, silence about] the killing of Palestinians, the money from the United States that funds wars, the horrific treatment of Black people on the streets, in schools, and in places of business, and the exploitation of girls and women.

Christians in churches now have earned the reputation for caring more about their “core values” that they list on their pretty webpages. Said core values quote Bible passages and mention Jesus a lot. They align well with politically conservative ideals like gun rights and capitalism and segregation. And then the core values also exclude, and persecute, and separate, and marginalize. And then those same core values don’t inspire people to care about others different than them, nor to stand up against social injustices. All of this terrible “Christianity” at large in the world is as radicalized and as well-funded as it ever has been. You do realize, right, that there are hundreds of “Islamic Watchdog” sites out there [some funded by so-called Christians] that supposedly monitor radical Muslims? So how many sites exist that are well-funded and closely monitor the radical, terrorist Christian churches and groups?

Still reading?

I say this as someone who was raised a Western Christian. I say this as someone who is imperfect and well-aware of the flaws in every religious tradition, including Christianity. I say this, because it saddens and sickens me and begs me to walk away from all of this and to disassociate myself completely from anything Jesus-related.

Until I’m reminded of something that isn’t fake news—something that’s meant for everyone.

Whether or not you or I see it in the radicalized, prejudice, and selfish Christianity of today, the crux or core value of Jesus of Nazareth and those who followed him was the very thing that bonded them together:

LOVE.

Now I don’t mean some flowery, abstract, intangible image of love. I am not referring to Jesus somehow saving you from all your sickness or helping you get that new car or making it possible to find your future spouse…

I’m talking about LOVE.

The LOVE of Jesus’ time, John’s Gospel, with a twist of Greek and Hellenistic philosophy.

You see, it’s simply put in the later communities [like those John’s Gospel was written for]:

God’s name=LOVE. We belong to God, so: we are Love’s.

We have kept Love close to us. The words of Love have been given; we know them.

We are protected in the name of Love.

And in Love, we are One.

Hey, dear readers, if you’ve made it this far, please know that I only do this because I care—about you, and the world, and all the living beings in existence. Yes, right now may seem to be a sad, heavy, and unsafe time for many of you. I don’t have all the answers. What I do know, however, I try to pass on, pay it forward, share.

So here goes:

Anyone who doesn’t know what it means to show love and compassion to another just isn’t someone to be trusted. No matter how many Bible verses they can quote, or how religious they are, or what name they claim. If they don’t love people as they are and for who they are, the god they worship has nothing to do with Jesus, or Gospel, or Yahweh or Allah or Krishna or Buddha or….

Don’t listen to them. Don’t follow them on Twitter. Don’t friend them on Facebook. It’s okay. It’s ridding yourself of toxicity that you don’t need.

Instead, let’s band together, all of us. Doesn’t matter if we are of the same tradition or don’t have a tradition. Let’s band together in love. We don’t have to agree about politics, or sports, or finances, or social issues. We just need to decide to intentionally love people as they are, where they are. That’s it. Don’t bring morals or ethics or religion into it. Just love people.

Calling all artists, nerds, musicians, queers, engineers, lawyers, teachers, doctors, nurses, accountants, activists, politicians, Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Jews, Jains, Sikhs, Buddhists, Baha’is, Wiccans, Secular Humanists, Hare Krishnas, Taoists, Agnostics, Atheists, Jedi Knights and anyone else I missed–calling all ya’ll!

We are better together.

 

 

Love in Safe Spaces

John 15:9-15

Question of the day: Who do you feel safe with?

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Do you have people in your life who make you feel safe? What I mean by that, in this moment is—do you have people who make you feel at ease, that you can be silly, raw, honest, ridiculous, crazy you?

These would be the people who would look at you weird when you say that you’ve always considered yourself a unicorn at heart, but then seconds later break out laughing at your stunned face thinking that your friend didn’t already know that and love that about you.

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This would be the people in your life who are well aware of your faults and the mistakes you’ve made, and they don’t judge you for them. These are the people who don’t like certain aspects about you or get annoyed by personality quirks you have but don’t try to change that about you, and still love and accept you. Yeah, those people are needed. And they are rare. And they encourage us to be our best.

It’s difficult to feel safe in our relationships, isn’t it? I mean, I’m guessing that most [if not all] of you have made yourself vulnerable and some point, and then you’ve been burned by someone, taken advantage of, or hurt. That sucks. So the more that happens, the less we feel comfortable being vulnerable/real/raw with others. We don’t trust that process. We wonder when the other shoe will drop. Admittedly, most of the relationships we have in this life will not feel safe a lot of the time. Especially for those of us who have experienced great trauma, or were the victims of some type of abuse, it is hard to feel safe with others.

We cannot ignore the issues that exist in our human existence: disconnection, loneliness, isolation, marginalization. We all experience some level of these feelings in our lifetime. We don’t have to look far to understand why. Unfortunately, we have created societies in which connecting to other people can be difficult; we are conditioned to believe that spending time alone is unhealthy and that we need a partner to survive; systems of society segregate people and whole communities are based on prejudicial categories like race, religion, sexuality, gender identification, and financial means; the same systems [including religious ones] push certain people to the margins, shutting them off from resources and rights that others enjoy.

This reality was true in the 1st and 2nd Century in Israel, Palestine, and the Mediterranean—places where Jesus of Nazareth taught and lived and the time period when the NT Gospels were written. John’s Gospel, I refer to as the metaphorical Gospel, is addressing a mixed community of people of different religious and cultural traditions. No doubt they were trying to make sense of the nonsensical world [like us] and also, they were wondering who this Jesus of Nazareth really was.

Because John is metaphorical, the author or authors present Jesus to the reader in a series of seven “I am” statements. Previously, “I am the good shepherd” and “I am the true vine.”

Now, still in John 15, Jesus introduces [or re-introduces, really] a command:

Love one another as I have loved you.

And then an emphatic statement: no one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

Now the command wasn’t new to anyone listening and really shouldn’t be new to us. To the Jewish listener, this command is standard. It is the crux of Deuteronomy and the covenant Yahweh made with the Israelites. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and love your neighbor as you love yourself. But John’s Gospel had just introduced the vine and branches metaphor, and that gives this ancient command a new context. Love one another as I have loved you. In other words, as branches of the Jesus-vine which was planted by Yahweh, be the expression of Yahweh. With great care, compassion, and detail—love one another.

And then be connected by this love.

The second part of this, that there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends needs some further unpacking.

First, it is not about dying a physical death or martyrdom. I have heard this phrase misquoted and misinterpreted to explain why Christian missionaries die in other countries or why Christians in Egypt, Iraq, Kenya, or elsewhere are attacked for their faith or even why women and men of the military die at war.

I think this shows great disrespect—both to those who have died, but also to those who are living. In John, the last thing Jesus does is to ask people to die for a religion. Jesus wasn’t about creating a religion in the first place. No, let’s go to the language of John, Koine Greek, and look at the phrase lay down one’s life.

It is actually: lay down one’s psuche. Psuche is roughly translated into English as breath, life-being, or soul. Apply that to the phrase and here are some possibilities:

  • lay down (or set aside) your heart
  • lay down your mind
  • lay down your soul
  • lay down your being

There is influence from Eastern philosophy here. Psuche is a holistic word to represent our humanity—including our ego. Ego means “I” in Eastern philosophy. It is the named self, the self-consciousness of self-recognition, when you say: “I am.” So now these seven I am statement start to resonate more, don’t they?

From the story of the burning bush when Yahweh declared to Moses, I AM who I AM, to the seven I AM statements of Jesus, the Jewish and Christian scriptures present a God who is interested in revealing Godself in a way that humans understand and recognize.

The Israelites loved and knew a God who was love and they committed to loving God and each other right back. This was their life commandment. This bound them together. Likewise, those who followed Jesus were invited to encounter their own burning bushes that revealed an I AM of love and kindness, and they were connected to that I AM in such a way as to live out this kind of love for others.

The command to love and to lay down one’s being for one’s friends is about loving in a better way, knowing ourselves [our personal I AM], and knowing those around us. It means setting aside any prejudices that would prevent us from truly loving others as they are.

So friends, here is what love in safe space looks like: it’s healing.

It is love in community. It is loving people as they are with their wounds and flaws and gifts and beauty–not judging them or trying to mold them into our image, but loving and accepting their I AM as it is, embracing it…

 

John 15:1, 5; I John 4:7-8, 11-13, 18

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Imagery of the natural world—metaphors that are living things—often speak to us in powerful ways. I think you’ll agree that being compared to a tree is much more agreeable and full of possibilities than being compared to another person or a material thing like a car. In most spiritual traditions, nature metaphors are prevalent and even essential in terms of presenting a view of the world and all of us who live in it.

The image/metaphor of the vine is a famous example. Imagine, if you will, a Creator who grows vines. This Creator plants the vines and knows where to do so—considering the type of earth, the climate, how much sun the land will get, etc. So the vine is planted with great care and with attention to the details. And so imagine that this vine planted so carefully and purposely that it does indeed grow. Branches form. The vine grows sideways and up and down, and every which way. The branches of the vine start to bear fruit. Grapes. And as long as those branches are connected to that vine, they keep bearing grapes, keep winding farther around, keep growing.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus of Nazareth is given I AM statements, seven of them–as metaphors for Jesus’ place in the world, and our place with God. In this case, obviously God is the vine grower, Jesus is the vine, and we are the branches bearing fruit.

It’s simple, but it’s also complicated.

Because this metaphor is about interconnectedness and relationship and community. And it forces us to ask the question: what is the fruit that we as branches actually bear? In some Christian circles, the fruit may be defined as moral decisions and behaviors, or sometimes even stretched to be political and social decisions and viewpoints. You see, we can even distort a beautiful image like a vine and branches just so we can make it fit into our view of the world and each other.

But it’s not meant to be that way. This vine and the branches are supposed to reflect what Jesus considered a relationship with God to be—a connected, fluid expression of love. It is for this reason that the early followers of Jesus of Nazareth equated God with the abstract concept of love, and because Jesus was intimately connected to this God, then Jesus was an expression of this love, and so the branches [you and I] are bearing the fruit of this love. In fact, this early followers of Jesus also believed the flip side of the metaphor—those who didn’t love, didn’t know God, were not connected to God, nor to Jesus. The “test” to know if God was real was love expressed by people. If people loved each other, God existed. And so, this God, this vinegrower, was the opposite of fear, the opposite of punishment. The Vinegrower is love, plants love, Jesus is connected to this love, we are connected to this love, we bear this love; we are this love.

Now let’s bring this metaphor one step further, as it can be expressed in community. I’ve mentioned communities of practice before. Allow me a moment to remind ourselves what a COP is:

A Community of Practice is a group of people that shares a Domain [shared interest], a Practice [body of knowledge, experiences, and techniques] and a Community [a select group of individuals who care enough about something to participate regularly together].[1]

So, to continue with the vine and branches metaphor, a Community of Practice that reflects the vine and branches metaphor would be people who share a passion for loving others, know how to love others and have had experience in loving others/being loved, and have formally started and continue to maintain a community that regularly gathers in order to love and be loved.

This is not abstract, as metaphors and even the term “love” can be. This idea of vine and branches community is intentional and practical. It is a focus. It is reflected in how we communicate with each other, how we make decisions, etc. Our conversations are restorative, meaning that when we talk to each other in meetings or gatherings, we are imagining possibilities, and are being creative and are open to learning from each other. We are less focused on solving problems but instead on growing and bearing the fruit of love as our community practice.

In doing so, we seek to invite transformative change rather than forcing it. We don’t own things but share them. Our thinking is diverse and even dissent voices are embraced. People make commitments based on passions and gifts and not pressure, obligation, or bartering. The gifts of each person, each branch, are acknowledged and valued.

Are you discovering these types of communities? Are you part of one? If so, please share a story about it in the comments section.

In the meantime, stay connected to the Love that planted us all and wishes us to bear this fruit for all.

[1] https://www.scaledagileframework.com/communities-of-practice/

Copyright © 2010-2017 Scaled Agile, Inc.

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